Boris Johnson reluctant to recognise Welsh border, First Minister says

Boris Johnson’s refusal to prevent people in England living under lockdown from travelling into Wales shows he is “reluctant to recognise the border” between the two countries, the Welsh First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said the Prime Minister had yet to reply to a letter from him expressing concern people in English local lockdown areas were still able to travel freely to parts of Wales with much lower rates of coronavirus.

Asked why Mr Johnson had failed to consider imposing travel restrictions, Mr Drakeford told LBC: “I think he is reluctant to recognise the border. I think that’s part of his way of thinking about things.

“But all I want is for people in England to be in the same position as the people in Wales. People in England living in low areas of coronavirus would still be able to come here.

“It’s only places in local lockdown that we would like to see that restriction. And that’s the rule we have for ourselves.”

Later, at the Welsh Government’s Covid-19 press briefing, Mr Drakeford was asked whether Westminster’s attitude showed a reluctance to publicly acknowledge it was not “calling all the shots” in terms of the UK’s public health response.

“I do think that is part of the explanation,” Mr Drakeford said.

“I think the UK Government has sometimes been reluctant to be clear with people when they are operating on a whole UK basis, and when they are operating, essentially, as the government of England.

“Some of their reluctance to do that has played into their unwillingness to take what I regard as simple and fair action across the border, and has played its part in not having the sort of reliable pattern of engagement with devolved administrations which would simply have been sensible and to the advantage of us all.”

Mr Drakeford again said he, like Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, had asked Mr Johnson for a Cobra meeting this past week but had not received a response.

The First Minister opened the press briefing by announcing people living alone in areas of Wales under local lockdown will be able to form a temporary bubble with another household in their local authority area from Saturday.

This could be a person meeting indoors with a family, or with another adult from a single household.

But despite previously saying a bubble could only be formed within the same area, Mr Drakeford said there would be flexibility for people to cross into other areas, including to form extended households, if they “had a good reason for doing so”.

“We do have some flexibility around those borders for people to use responsibly,” he said.

“We’re not saying to people you’ve got to make a long, difficult and inconvenient journey to somewhere else when you could carry on doing what you would normally have done.”

But Friday’s review saw no other significant changes to regulations across the country, as numbers of cases continue to rise sharply.

Mr Drakeford said the past week had seen more than 350 new Covid-19 cases reported every day, a sharp rise from the 80 cases per day being reported at the last review date three weeks ago.

And 21 people were currently being treated in intensive care, he said, the highest number for three months.

Mr Drakeford said the most effective thing the public could do to help drive down numbers was “to go on observing all of those small every day measures that together make the biggest difference”.

“Each one of us has a part to play in preventing the spread of coronavirus and to protect ourselves and our families from its onset,” he said.

There are currently tighter restrictions in 16 areas of Wales, including Cardiff, Swansea and parts of North Wales, affecting more than 2.3 million people.

Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham in North Wales remain under lockdown, along with Caerphilly county borough, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport, Blaenau Gwent, Cardiff, Swansea, the town of Llanelli, Neath Port Talbot, the Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen, all in south Wales.

People must not enter or leave the affected areas without a reasonable excuse, such as travelling for work or education.

Mr Drakeford earlier revealed that a local authority area was placed on a “watch list” when cases of Covid-19 reached more than 20 per 100,000 people, with the trigger for restrictions being 50 per 100,000.

On Friday, a further 462 cases of Covid-19 were reported in Wales, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 24,845.

Public Health Wales said three further deaths had been reported, with the total number of deaths since the beginning of the pandemic increasing to 1,625.